Wednesday 19 September 2007

Calvaire (2004) Fabrice du Welz

Marc Stevens is some sort of cabaret singer, but he's singing at a Christmas party for a bunch of old folks in sort of a home. He leaves but his van breaks down in the middle of nowhere, where all the best horror films take place, but this middle of nowhere is in Belgium. Just to add insult to injury it's also dark, there's snow on the ground and it starts raining torrentially. Luckily he runs into a strange man looking for a dog, who guides him to a local inn run by a man named Paul Bartel, who helpfully tows his van and seems a friendly and happy sort.

No prizes for guessing that he's a lot more than friendly and happy. His wife has left him, it seems, and while he thinks only his enthusiasm has gone, it's really his mind. Soon our singer finds himself staying at the Bartel Inn for a lot longer than he ever expected, and not as a standard guest either. Before long he's half shaved, dressed up as woman and nailed to a post, which are only some of his troubles. Calvaire translates to The Ordeal, so that may give you something of an idea as to what the film is going to end up as.

It was described in the Sundance programme guide as a Belgian cross between Deliverance and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but there are other films to think of here too, like Straw Dogs, Misery and probably Vase de Noces, once I finally get to see it. There's some startling originality too though, as evidenced by the dance scene in the bar, which is one of the freakiest things I've seen on film. I'm not even going to attempt to describe it because I couldn't do it justice. It's a scene that has to be seen to be believed.

The biggest question of all in my mind has to do with the village. Early on Bartel advises Stevens to avoid the village, almost tearfully, as if the warning carried massive impact, but after discovering what the singer gets to experience outside the village, wondering what might be there is a nailbiter. Maybe that's where the bar is. Maybe it's somewhere else and we never get there. I have my own ideas, based on certain observations, but I have no way knowing if I'm right or not. Oh well, those sorts of films are always the best: we get to make half of them in our heads.

The film is beautifully shot, though beautiful seems a very strange word to use given the contents. The countryside is bleak and what goes on is hardly something beautiful. I was surprised to find I knew one of the actors: Brigitte Lahaie, who gets a small part at the beginning. She certainly looks a lot older than I last saw her. Laurent Lucas is astounding in the lead role and he certainly gets to go through an ordeal and a half. Jackie Berroyer is perfectly and scarily believable as Bartel, but I have no clue who most of the other equally scarily believable actors are as I don't believe we ever hear many of their names. I wonder what they all thought of the film. Anyone looking beyond the quality of the production, which belies its low budget, must be a little strange.

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